The potential is even larger, both in terms of consumption and penetration. The fact that 70% of the population accounts for only 50% of even relatively well-penetrated categories for soaps, indicates the enormous scope of consumption-led growth in these categories. Therefore such categories will derive growth out of increased usage. In categories, which are relatively less penetrated, like personal products, rural India offers an even bigger growth opportunity through greater penetration and then consumption. For example only three out of 10 consumers in rural markets use shampoo or skin care products. Therefore growth in such categories will emerge, as more consumers purchase these products, and then continue to use them regularly. Hindustan Lever has taken many initiatives over the decades to create markets in the rural hinterlands. By marketing relevant products, at affordable prices.
A unique example is Hindustan Lever's Lifebuoy soap. In rural India, health is of paramount importance, because indisposition is very directly related to loss of income. Lifebuoy, whose core equity is health and hygiene, has for decades now been synonymous with soap in rural India.
For decades now, Hindustan Lever has also taken initiatives to circumvent the limitation in communication channels, by innovatively leveraging non-conventional media. Among them are wall paintings, cinema vans, weekly markets (haat), fairs and festivals. Given the rural consumer's fascination for cinema, the cinema vans show popular movies, interspersed with products advertisements. Weekly markets, fairs and festivals are parts and parcel of rural life. They give an opportunity to address consumers, spread over many tiny hamlets, at one location. The occasions are used to demonstrate product benefits and also sell such products. Such demonstrations have played a significant role in creating the soaps market in rural India. In recent times, such demonstrations are being deployed to illustrate how visible clean is not hygienic clean, and how using soap is essential to prevent easily avoidable infections. Communication through fairs and festivals are backed by direct consumer contact. For example, in 1998-99, Hindustan Lever implemented a major direct consumer contact, called Project Bharat, which covered 2.2 crore homes. Each home was given a box, at a special price of Rs.15, comprising a low unit price pack of shampoo, talcum powder, toothpaste and skin cream, along with educational leaflets and audio-visual demonstrations. The project has helped eliminate barriers to trial, and has strengthened salience of both particular categories and brands. Similarly in 2002, Hindustan Lever has launched a similar large-scale direct contact, called Lifebuoy Swasthya Chetana, which already covers 70 million people in 18,000 villages of 8 states. The project is intended at generating awareness about good health and hygiene practices, and specifically how a simple habit of washing hands is essential to maintaining good health. The initiative will involve interaction with students and senior citizens, who act as change agents.
At every nook and corner
Generating awareness pays dividends only when steps are taken to ensure constant availability of products. In rural India particularly, availability determines volumes and market share, because the consumer usually purchases what is available at the outlet, influenced very largely by the retailer.
Therefore, over the decades, Hindustan Lever has progressively strengthened its distribution reach in rural India, which today has about 33 lakh outlets. Direct rural distribution in Hindustan Lever began with the coverage of villages adjacent to small towns. The company's stockists in these towns were made to use their infrastructure to distribute products to outlets in these villages. But this distribution mode could only be extended to villages connected with motorable roads, and it could cover about 25% of the rural population by 1995.
Therefore in 1998, Hindustan Lever launched Project Streamline to further extend its distribution reach. Under this initiative, the company identifies sub-stockists in a large village, connected by motorable road to a small town. This sub-stockist in turn distributes the company's products to outlets in adjacent smaller villages using transportation suitable to interconnecting roads, like cycles, scooters or the age-old bullock cart. Hindustan Lever is thus trying to circumvent the barrier of motorable roads. As a result, the distribution network, as of now, directly covers about 50,000 villages, reaching about 250 million consumers. The company simultaneously uses the wholesale channel, suitably incentivising them to distribute company products. HLL has in the recent past established a common distribution system in rural areas for all its products. Given the number of brands and their packs the rural retailer usually requires, one HLL representative can take all the products from the company portfolio that he needs. This common distribution system is now fully operational, under one Regional Sales Manager exclusively dedicated to rural markets of each region of the country.
Over time, Hindustan Lever will further strengthen its rural distribution through mutually beneficial alliances with rural Self Help Groups (SHGs). Over the last five years, financial institutions, NGOs and government organizations are working closely to establish SHGs, whose objective is to alleviate poverty through sustainable income-generating activities. Since 2001, Hindustan Lever is implementing Project Shakti, whereby SHGs are being offered the option of distributing relevant products of the company as a sustainable income-generating activity. The model hinges on a powerful win-win relationship; the SHG engages in an activity which brings sustainable income, while Hindustan Lever gets an interface to interact and transact with the rural consumer. HLL's vision for Project Shakti is to scale it up across the country by 2005, creating about 25000 Shakti entrepreneurs, covering 100,000 villages, and touching the lives of 100 million rural consumers. Begun with 50 groups in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh, with the support of local authorities, the project has been extended, as of now, to about 50,000 villages in 12 states. A typical Shakti entrepreneur conducts business of around Rs.10,000 - Rs 15,000 per month, which gives her an income of about Rs 700 - Rs.1000 per month on a sustainable basis. As most of these women are from below the poverty line, and live in extremely small villages (less than 2000 population), this earning is very significant, and is almost double of their past household income. The full benefit of Project Shakti will be realised after some years.
Lifebuoy is India’s largest selling soap brand and has been so for a long time now. It is the only soap brand to have ever crossed 100,000 tons in sales in a single year.
The brand has a mammoth user base of over 600 million consumers in India and is one of the most recognizable symbols of health.
The advertising and communication for Lifebuoy has been recognized as one of the most effective at the advertising effectiveness awards ‘Effies-2003’.
The Lifebuoy jingle, synonymous with health and hygiene, has become a classic – indeed, it can be considered as part of the Indian social fabric.
The Brand Equity Survey 2003 ranked this mega-brand as one of the Most Trusted Brands in India.
Since 2000, major changes have been made to the classic Lifebuoy soap bar to ensure that it provides improved hygiene protection and a more enjoyable healthy washing experience for its billions of consumers.
· Lifebuoy soap's classic hard red brick shape has been replaced with a new signature Lifebuoy shape. The new shape makes the bar easier to grip and use
· The Lifebuoy Brand team have developed a new formulation providing even better germ protection which creates a rich lather on the skin
· Lifebuoy soap's characteristic medicated, carbolic smell has been replaced with a more enjoyable and contemporary 'health' fragrance
Lifebuoy has become more than just a red bar of soap – today the brand provides hygiene and health solutions for families, including a range of bar soaps, hand wash liquids and liquid shower gels. The most recent Lifebuoy innovation addresses the number one skin hygiene and health concern for teens and tweens: oily and acne prone skin. Lifebuoy Clear Skin is a bar soap formulated using radical new technology that is clinically proven to reduce even severe acne, by 70% in 6 weeks. Regular use, twice a day is proven to prevent and reduce the recurrence of acne
Today Lifebuoy is mainly sold in Asia and parts of Africa. It is market leader in every Asian market where it is sold Lifebuoy soap has been proven in laboratories to provide 100% more effective germ protection than ordinary soaps To date, 70 million people in rural India along have experienced the pioneering, Lifebuoy sponsored Health Education programme – the single largest private hygiene education programme in the world In 2005, Lifebuoy was awarded a 'Citizen Brand' accolade in Indonesia in recognition of the work the brand has undertaken in hand wash education Nearly half of the Lifebuoy brand's consumption is in rural Asia, where most of the population live on less than US$1 per day.
The company has launched Lifebuoy in four variants:
· Lifebuoy Total
· Lifebuoy DeoFresh
· Lifebuoy Nature
· Lifebuoy Gold Care.
Lifebuoy Total is for all those mothers with active kids who constantly fear hygiene threats from germs leading to stress and anxiety for the mothers and is available at Rs 12 for 125g, Rs 10 for 100g and Rs 5 for 55g.
Lifebuoy DeoFresh has been introduced especially for young adults who lead active lifestyles. It is available at Rs 10 for 100g.
Lifebuoy Nature, on the other hand, comes with neem and tulsi and is available at Rs 10 for 100g.
And, Lifebuoy Gold Care is specifically designed for sensitive skin and is available at Rs 10 for 100g.
Lifebuoy soap,Lifebuoy hand wash, Lifebuoy shower gel, Lifebuoy Clear Skin
Lifebuoy Family Talc has been launched on the platform of health and has two pack sizes, pegged at Rs 28 for 100 gm and Rs 68 for 400 gm.
Positioned as a `complete family health' talc, Lifebuoy Family Talc is expected to provide `All day protection' and meant to fight body odour causing germs all day long, according to the communication on the purple and white packs of its talc.
Manufactured at HLL's manufacturing unit at Silvassa, its talc is meant for the entire family and the graphics include a family portrait on the pack, to depict its target consumers. According to industry data, talcum powder as a category has been registering a 13 per cent degrowth in 2002 in spite of achieving a 100 per cent penetration level in the market.
HLL's talc brand Ponds dominates the category with a volume share of 56 per cent, followed by Johnson & Johnson at 11 per cent and Denim at 4 per cent.
"More than cracking the category, HLL is looking at having as many deliverables as possible to cater to the standard needs of households. The company believes that rural health is a concern it can address through the equity of the mother brand of Lifebuoy," states an analyst tracking the company. Considering most of Lifebuoy's soap sales come from the rural market, HLL is hoping that the strong `health' equity of the mother brand will have a rub off on its talc as well.
Meanwhile, apart from its Ponds talc with variants such as Dreamflower, Magic, Light N Easy and Sandalwood, HLL, as the market leader, has already stretched the franchise of most its other brands such as Axe, Denim, Liril, Vaseline and Fair & Lovely to talc, filling the category with negligible shares.
Industry observers feel that talcum powder in India has always been looked upon as a cosmetic offering with a fairness proposition. "HLL is hoping that in spite of the category stagnating, consumers will not perceive its latest talc as a cosmetic product and hopefully re-evaluate the health offering associated with the Lifebuoy brand," says an industry observer. A new campaign for the `New Lifebuoy Talc' has already been developed by Lowe to highlight the `healthy' connotations associated with the Lifebuoy brand of soaps.
HLL relaunched the Lifebuoy brand last year and currently it has variants such as active red, active gold, international plus and international gold and continues to be the largest selling popular soap in its category.
“Healthy and hygienic soap”
Lifebuoy's goal is to provide affordable and accessible hygiene and health solutions that enable people to lead a life without fear of hygiene anxieties and health consequences.
Initially a macho brand - Lifebuoy - was repositioned with great success. All of us are familiar with Lifebuoy, its advertising featuring men playing outdoor games such as football and volleyball.
The brand was an effective anti-bacterial soap. The recent campaign featuring a `little Gandhi' is a dramatic shift from its macho image. The brand now addresses children and the family as well. The advertising differential was to give a twist to the `germ-free' by saying "you can live without fear."
The lesson for us again is that positioning statements, however potent, can remain mere words. It needs creativity to lift them to a different plane that will help beat the clutter. Lifebuoy demonstrates that - aided as it has been by a new formulation and packaging.